Talk to Al Jazeera

Ernesto Zedillo: ‘Decriminalise drug consumption’

Mexico’s former president discusses the ‘war on drugs’ and his controversial proposal to rid his country of violence.

Ernesto Zedillo was Mexico’s president for six years, serving from 1994 to 2000.

A trained economist, he brought in what were described as profound electoral reforms, which in effect ended the traditional hold his Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) had on the presidency.

Drug cartels are much more powerful today...Unfortunately, as other countries were successful in mitigating the drug problem, the problem grew in Mexico to incredible proportions.... In retrospect, I should have been more insisting in saying ... that the so-called war on drugs ... failed and now we have proof. We have further proof that the way in which we have dealt with the drug problem for so many years is a total failure.

by Ernesto Zedillo, former Mexican president

Faced with a financial crisis just days after taking office, Zedillo brought in a series of changes and economic reforms which helped the country recover.

Yet he is probably best remembered for the creation of the Progresa programme, which helped some of Mexico’s poorest families with subsidies and support provided their children went to school.

Since leaving office, Zedillo has spent a lot of time concentrating on globalisation and its impact on the links between developed and developing nations. He is currently the director of the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization in the US.

As his home country struggles with continuing drug violence, murders, kidnappings and corruption, Zedillo has served on the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which has called for a fundamental re-think across the world.

“We have to start thinking about the drug problem first and foremost as a health issue. And we have to think seriously how to undermine and eventually banish the black market that feeds these criminal organisations ….

“Countries should have the freedom to decriminalise the consumption of drugs on the one hand, and on the other, legally regulate drug markets. Because what we have done is to simply feed organised crime with this rather stupid policy …. You have millions and millions of people in jail for drug offences – you should have these people in hospitals, not in jails,” he says.

Ernesto Zedillo, the former president of Mexico, talks to Al Jazeera about his time in office and his impact on Mexican politcs, a different approach towards drug cartels, and the challenges facing his country.